Occupy Wall Street and 15M occupy the minds

There’s something about the mainstream media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street Movement that I find somewhat bizarre and pathetic: its attempt to classify, isolate, abstract from reality, label, define, only to denigrate, ridicule, mock, disempower, obliterate with an array of cliché rhetorical strategies. One year after its birth in Zuccotti Park, the media says the Occupy movement is declining, that it has lost its impetus….still so obsessed with the visual. What if Occupy values have been internalised by an important part of the population who does not necessarily have to be physically present in the square? To me, the mental battle is as important as the battle for public space. To occupy minds is as important as to occupy squares. And here’s why I think the media is pathetically behind in the race for credible and reliable information although one might question whether the adjectives “credible” and “reliable” can really be applied nowadays to the mainstream media in the US. In a nutshell, the complex dynamics of social movements defy the fragmentary and categorising logics of the media which still operates on the logics isolating the event, classifying it and then defining it. This is how most corporate media have been operating as a means of inserting certain cognitive frameworks in the minds of the viewers to control their perception of events. This methodology has proved effective, it has achieved results (as we saw in the media manipulation leading to the Iraq invasion) but, as we have seen with the OWS movement, it has serious limitations, especially when competing with interacting and world-wide information flows circulating via social networks.

There’s something that the media can’t catch in the OWS phenomena and this is its morphing nature, its adaptive capacity and transformative nature. But media attempts at reducing and controlling public perceptions of OWS frequently focus on membership: are you a “member” of OWS? Who is behind OWS? In other words, hierarchy, masterminds, top-down approaches, but also, “inside or outside” patterns of thought seem to constitute  their basic manipulative strategy. But these mental patterns are outdated for an increasingly interconnected world. Honestly, who can say who is orchestrating OWS from “behind”, “inside”, or “above”? OWS has morphed into a myriad of environmental, social and political struggles:

“To put it in a nutshell: the Zuccotti encampment model might have passed its heyday, but the spirit of Occupy is still very much alive … evolving and inspiring, expanding our understanding of the possible, exploding our political imagination. Before S17 we relied on the same dinosaur paradigm of the dusty old left. We looked backward for inspiration instead of forward. With Occupy we jumped over that old dead goat. Now it’s time to leap fresh again”.

It’s interesting to notice how all across the Atlantic Ocean, in Spain, the same kind of strategies were used by the Spanish mainstream media to ridicule, mock, ignore, threaten, minimise, caricaturise yet another big and empowering social movement: 15M. After the media uproar in the heat of occupations in Plaza del Sol and all across the country, the media were quick to assassinate the movement claiming it had lost impact and force to mobilise, that the movement had just been born in the fashionable winds of Spring and yet another time, the media failed to understand what was really going on, or were they really interested in improving public perception of this heterogeneous movement? As with the OWS, the disappearance of 15M from public space was inaccurately interpreted as the dismantling of the movement but this is not what really happened, as usual. There was an intense debate within the diverse groups forming the 15M as to whether continuing the occupation of squares in order to keep social demands on the spot or to diversify the strategy into neighbourhoods. And luckily and wisely, the movement opted for beginning to work from below, abandoning temporarily the squares to which they could always return as a symbolic gesture. Since then, internal struggles within the 15M movement have generated divisions, new and often politically antagonistic groups, a milieu of associations. In this line of thought, I was reading an article about the 15M in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, which quoted a protester saying:

“some people believe that unity means to be all together in Sol Square. For me, the 15M means neighbourhoods. The spirit of the camping has expanded to any collective struggle against the dismantling of the welfare state”.

Perhaps something similar has happened in the Occupy Movement. Its spirit lingers in many local protests for which the frame of OWS and all it signifies serves as moral guidance or as a strategic umbrella connecting a milieu of disparate yet interconnected struggles both in the US and globally. And this is my point. Growth in organisms begins when cells begin the process of division which leads to larger and complex structures all working coherently yet performing different functions within the organism. We could argue that, following this metaphor, some of these structures and organisations might cease to work, some might perish, some might evolve or transform depending on the particular context of each struggle. It might not be a bad idea to conceive social movements from the standpoint of organisms because after all, social movements are small organisations of people interacting with complex social, cultural economic environments and this is what the media cannot grasp because from their reductive lenses division might be interpreted as lack of cohesion, rupture, weakness, whereas life operates and moves on precisely on division, which leads to growth which leads to transformation.

And in this larger organism of social movements, perhaps social networks act like the neural systems, interconnecting nodes of information in larger and more complex webs of ever-growing and transforming patterns of thought. Is there a danger that the original spirit of the struggle is lost in this perpetual transformation? No, because OWS and the rest of struggles are founded on some core principles/worldview/frames (Lakoff again!) that are not incompatible with each other. And what’s more interesting, social networks are creating a larger common and empowering consciousness that many of us, of the average people, even if we are from different cultures or political affiliations, share more with the other than we thought: basically, we want a world with more justice, more equality   . I believe in the power of social networks to transform reality; not alone, of course, but their power is enormous, just look at the US government attempts at restricting internet freedom to realise how scared the powerful have become of social networks. Behind every computer in FB or Twitter or in any of the social networks, there are flesh and blood human beings exposed to interconnected flows of information that, in many cases, challenges official mainstream propaganda, constantly changing and influencing the users’ perception of the world in different ways in their neural circuits. And the tendency of these larger, interconnected networks of minds and bodies will be to evolve, change, and grow like any other organism living in a complex environment unless a brutal crackdown on the web of   unbelievable, totalitarian proportions manages to disrupt the flow in some way.

It took 30 years for an emancipatory process like the Spanish II Republica to achieve the magnitude of a mass movement that could ultimately lead to transformative power, as it happened in Spain. Nowadays, the time-space immediacy of the web can organise a protest in minutes in any part of the world as we saw in Tunisia and Egypt to give two examples among many. But the creation of a larger truly empowering and massively coordinated global consciousness will take time because there is still a large segment of the population sleeping in the couch, watching TV and wasting their lives in senseless consumerism, that is true. But the economic crisis/fraud is likely to affect increasing numbers of workers who will find themselves dispossessed, marginalised and excluded from the “benefits” of a coroparte-ruled society. Facebook alone won’t change the world, but the world cannot be changed without an integrated nervous system that not only opens the consciousness of more and more people to the bleak and oppressive reality of corporate power but also to the emptiness and meaningfulness of the kind of sterile society and nihilistic worldview corporate power represents. And what’s more important, if someone thought that the aim of social movements like OWS and 15M, among many others, is to symbolically occupy squares to meet the headlines then he/she perhaps needs to read a bit more: as far as I know, both 15M and OWS are creating spaces in the fringes and crevices of the very same system they want to change. That is, these movements are now on the stage of opening autonomous spaces of solidarity and self-organisation, alternative paradigms of a new, yet still in progress, society. 15M lives on in some experiments with alternative currencies, barter markets, ethical banking institutions, community and self-organised cooperatives, the many local assemblies of firemen, teachers, doctors, civil servants and foreclosure associations articulating empowering decision-making from bottom to top taking place in Spain; and OWS lives on in the milieu of environmental local struggles, student, teacher and doctors’ protests spread throughout the whole of the US that have found a strategic umbrella in OWS. Corporate media prefers not to see or listen to the inner life and energy liberated by OWS and 15M but they must remember that energy never dies, it just transforms itself. But this might sound just too complicated and profound for showbiz agendas……. Behind the scenes, a new paradigm for society is growing.


Antonio Cuadrado-Fernandez is an independent researcher who obtained his PhD in postcolonial literature in the School of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where he has taught literary theory, Ecopoetry and Catalan language. His research focuses on the relationship between art and biodiversity, cultural politics, philosophy of mind and cultural/human geography. He also loves progressive rock, growing vegetables and all kinds of coffee. He is a freelance translator, Spanish and Catalan Tutor and enjoys volunteering for the U3A group teaching Spanish to elderly people in Norwich.</em>